By John DiMotto
Wisconsin Statutes section 908.03(2) sets forth the "Excited Utterance" hearsay exception. It encompasses:
"A statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition."
There are three elements to this hearsay exception:
1) Need for a startling event or condition.
2) Statement related to the startling event or condition.
3) Statement made while under stress of excitement caused by the startling event or condition.
Case law gives lawyers and judges guidance on the parameters and outer limits of this exception.
The excited utterance is a firmly rooted hearsay exception. State v. Patino, 177 Wis.2d 348 (Ct. App. 1993). It is based upon spontaneity and stress which endows the statement with sufficient trustworthiness to overcome reasons for exclusion. Essentially, it must be shown that the statement was made so spontaneously or under such psychological or physical pressure or excitement that the rational mind could not interpose itself between the spontaneous statement stimulated by the event and the event itself. State v. Huntington, 216 Wis.2d 671 (1998). Under the excited utterance, time is measured by the duration of the condition of excitement rather than the mere lapse of time from the event/condition. State v. Moats, 156 Wis.2d 74 (1990). The excited utterance exception is based on the notion that excitement or agitation stills the declarant's capacity for conscious reflection thus reducing the risks associated with fabricated or insincere testimony. State v. Gerald L.C., 194 Wis.2d 549 (Ct. App. 1995).
In the context of child sexual abuse cases, the excited utterance is expansively applied. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has formulated, by case law, a special species of excited utterance for statements made by young children alleged to have been victims of sexual assault. A broad and liberal interpretation is given. State v. Padilla, 110 Wis.2d 414 (Ct. App. 1983). Excited utterance time is measured by the duration of the condition. Young children produce declarations free of conscious fabrication for longer time than adults. It is unlikely a young child will review the incident and calculate the effect of his or her statement. State v. Teynor, 141 Wis.2d 187 (Ct. App. 1987). In fact, a statement from an alleged victim may be an excited utterance even though the alleged victim did not appear emotionally upset and even if the statements were made in response to questions. State v. Gollon, 115 Wis.2d 592 (Ct. App. 1983); State v. Lindberg, 175 Wis.2d 332 (Ct. App. 1993). What matters is spontaneity and stress. Contemporaneity, unlike the present sense impression, is not needed. Moats.
The excited utterance exception is a vehicle to bring evidence before the trier of fact by taking the trier of fact back in time. The excited utterance is a legal "time machine."
In my next blog, I will examine the "State of Mind" exception.